Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 4th Sunday of Easter, 7 May 2017
Year A RCL Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
What animal, other than humans, do our scriptures mention today?
Yes! You're correct! Sheep!
Notice: These dolls represent sheep. Each carries distinctive colors like cattle being branded.
Visiting Scotland, our family learned sheep farmers paint a particular color on their sheep so when they mix along the hillside with neighboring flocks, each shepherd easily sees his sheep as they munch what's planted. Sheep eat food which has sprouted from seeds watered by rain God sends to nourish the earth & give growth.
What products do we get from sheep? [Answers: wool, meat.] Although sheep provide wool from which we make blankets & clothes, I am more familiar with cotton, having enjoyed the snow-like beauty of cotton fields for years living in the south.
My husband & our son know lots about cotton: They scouted cotton fields in the summer for our son to earn money for school. A few years ago, the company our son works for sent him & other employees to learn about cotton growing in California. It is different, he says.
He tells about experts explaining details during days flying over fields, being in fields to see various stages of growth, how plants are tended, picked & baled. The last day the group sees baling in action.
Standing in a warehouse surrounded by bales of cotton, the guide asks for questions. One person points to a bale & asks:
to make a bale this size,
how many sheep does it take?
! ! ! ! !
Was this person not listening all those days? This reminds me of a question in a favorite book of mine, which asks: If a mantries to fail & succeeds, which does he do?1
Does he fail or does he succeed?
This lighthearted & challenging question, reminds me of the disciples in our Gospel today. Jesus talks to his friends about sheep & shepherds, a normal part of their culture.
The disciples just don't get it. . . . Why?
? ? ?
People familiar with sheep say sheep respond to their shepherd's voice. At a clergy conference, a colleague shared about his trip to Israel & the guide taking the group among flocks of sheep & having a shepherd call a sheep by name. It looks up. He calls another name & way in the distance that sheep looks up. Sheep from other flocks keep munching & pay that shepherd no attention. They respond to their own shepherd's voice.
So why do the disciples not get this? . . . .
Like the disciples, we can be slow to respond, so slow to understand what Jesus is telling us, slow to remember we are sheep in Jesus' flock, “branded” in the water of baptism.
Jesus clearly tells the disciples he is the good shepherd & the gate for the sheep. This dual image sounds confusing. In Jesus' culture it makes sense.
Bible commentator William Barclay says2: In Jesus day there are 2 kinds of sheep-folds:
“communal sheep-folds” in villages to keep all the community's flocks at night. These are strongly guarded under lock & key.
When shepherds are away with their flocks in open places, they use hillside sheep-folds, which have a wall with an opening for the sheep to enter. At night the shepherd lies across the entrance to keep the sheep inside: the shepherd literally becomes the gate.3
Jesus assures us he comes so his sheep “may have life, & have it abundantly.” We hear the joy this abundant life brings to believers right after Jesus' resurrection. Our lesson from Acts says:
The baptized devote themselves to the apostles' teaching & fellowship, to the breaking of bread & the prayers. They spend much time together in the temple, break bread & eat with glad & generous hearts, praising God & having the good will of all the people.
This is abundant life. This is joy-filled living. This is good stewardship of the gifts God gives, like the gifts God blesses us with to use & share.
Our scriptures tell us of joy-filled life. Psalm 23 tells us about dwelling in the house of the Lord for ever. We tend to think of this as life after death. In the Hebrew perspective4, [and I paraphrase in parts] the Psalmist speaks of deep longing for life inside the Temple.
You may recall the song “If I were a rich man” Tevye, the farmer, sings in Fiddler on the Roof. He sings: “I'd sit all day in the synagogue & pray.” He sings about lingering in God's temple. This is the life dwelling in deep communion with God which we hear in Psalm 23. Trust in God is like living right in the Temple close to God, praising God continually.
What does this mean to you?
How do you see yourself as a person dwelling in God's house?
How do you see yourself as a sheep in the good, tender care of Jesus,
the Good Shepherd?
We gather in this temple regularly like the people we read about in Acts. We spend much time together in this temple. We break bread & eat with glad & generous hearts, praising God & having the good will of many. We carry this joy from here out to others. This is abundant life. This is joy-filled living.
What does this mean to you?
How do you see yourself as having abundant life here?
How do you see yourself as carrying this abundant life out our doors &
into your home, into your daily life?
We come to this holy temple & each of us is the temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. Like the challenge of Jesus as shepherd & gate, we have 2 images to live into:
gathering together in God's holy temple &
being the temple
where the Holy Spirit dwells.
What can you do to remember we do more than gather in this temple?
How can you remember we are the temple where the Holy Spirit dwells?
God lingers within us. Each of us is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
You have abundant life to enjoy & share!
If a man tries to fail & succeeds, which does he do?5
If you – if we – try to succeed as generous, loving people who are where the Holy Spirit dwells:
how can we possibly fail!?
Barclay, William. The Gospel of John. Vol 2. Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975.
Cathcart, Thomas. Daniel Klein. Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar...:Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes. New York: Books. The Penguin Group. 2007.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
“He Knows Your Name”. http://www.sermons4kids.com/ Accessed: 3 May 2017.
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. Minneapolis: A Seabury Book. Winston Press. 1985.
1 Cathcart, Thomas. Daniel Klein. Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar...:Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes. P. 49. Note: verb tense is paraphrased.
2 Barclay, William. The Gospel of John. Vol 2. Revised Ed. P. 58.
4 Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. Pp. 176-177.
5 Ibid. Cathcart. Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar.